Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Canadian depth chart: Fullbacks

For most of my life, I had an incorrect understanding of the fullback position in soccer. I blame my coach in youth soccer, who called all 4 of his defenders in a 4-4-2 or 4-3-3 fullbacks. So while I was right to call myself a fullback most of the time, since I played mostly on the right side, the term properly signifies those defenders who "take up the wide defensive positions, one on each side of the field" [wikipedia]

Having been disabused of my misconceptions several years ago, I am ready to embark upon a discussion of Canada's options in these wide positions at the back.

Luckily, over the last two years, spanning 14 matches, Canada has deployed a back four, making it easy to identify who has started at the fullback positions:

Opponent Right back Left back
USA Stalteri Jazic
Guatemala Stalteri Jazic
Haiti Stalteri Jazic
Guadeloupe Stalteri Jazic
Costa Rica Stalteri Jazic
Venezuela Braz Jazic
Bermuda Stalteri Hastings
Hungary Pozniak Jazic
Jamaica Stalteri Klukowski
Jamaica Braz Pozniak
Austria Pozniak Klukowski
USA Braz Jazic
Luxembourg Pozniak Jazic
Spain Braz Klukowski
Jazic and Stalteri both started every match of the Gold Cup in June, but in the previous matches in this window, the choice hasn't seemed so clear. Whether this is due to injuries or other availability issues is another point. Here is a look at the players:

Paul Stalteri (Tottenham Hotspur, England)
29 years old / 59 caps
Stalteri has the best professional pedigree of Canada's fullbacks, and is also the most capped among Canada's active players. Many of those appearances for Canada were in midfield, and as recently as the Venezuela friendly in June, but his best position is at right back where he sees some time with Tottenham. His previous experience in a more attacking role gives him an offensive flair that some of Canada's other options do not possess.

Ante Jazic (LA Galaxy, MLS)
31 years old / 20 caps

While David Beckham sat on the bench, dressed impeccably in a black suit, this past Sunday, Jazic was LA's lone bright spot in a match at BMO Field against Toronto FC. Jazic was signed to the Galaxy by former Canada manager Frank Yallop to play the same left back position he has occupied 20 times for his country. His play can generally be described as solid, not spectacular, a suicide back-pass in the last WCQs notwithstanding. He has been the coach's first choice in 9 of the last 14 matches and should compete for the spot until the end of this qualifying cycle.

Michael Klukowski (Club Brugge, Belgium)
26 years old / 8 caps

I mentioned Klukowski as a possible solution in my post on centre backs, but he is more familiar with the left back position that he plays with his club. This past season Klukowski suffered several injuries, and he hasn't played for Canada since last October. But if he is healthy, he should receive a call to the upcoming Iceland friendly on August 22nd. He is strong at taking set pieces with a good left foot, and based on club pedigree alone, would start ahead of Jazic.

Richard Hastings
(Inverness CT, Scotland)
30 years old / 43 caps

Another re-tread from the centre backs post, Richard can also play the left back position. I wonder, though, if we have seen the last of him starting in that role for Canada, because Klukowski, Jazic and Toronto FC's Jim Brennan can all offer more, especially offensively. Still, Hastings can provide effective cover and is responsible defensively. He may lack the speed to add much to the attack.

Now, as we have seen with the other positions, there are a raft of Toronto FC players to consider . . .

Jim Brennan
30 years old / 43 caps

Toronto FC manager Mo Johnston's seems as perplexed as the rest of us where to use Jim Brennan. He is a surefire starter for his club, but at 3 different positions: centre back, left back and left midfield. He hasn't started at the back for Canada in some time, usually slotting in midfield, including an appearance against Austria in March 2006 in which he scored 2 goals. I would prefer both Klukowski and Jazic ahead of Brennan but he has proved that he can full the left back position. He has good speed and a good left foot, and is good on set pieces (see the video)

Adam Braz

26 years old /11 caps

Adam Braz doesn't fit the typical fullback mould: he isn't terribly speedy, and he is a rather imposing physical presence. Still, he has at times been effective for Canada, including a strong performance two years ago in a friendly against world powers Spain, and in his rare appearances for his club side. He wouldn't be expected to start ahead of Stalteri, but when the latter is not available, Braz is a strong option.

Chris Pozniak
26 years old / 20 caps

Like Jim Brennan, Pozniak has a great deal of versatility. He has played at left and right back for Canada, and for TFC, and in midfield as well. At the international level, he provides cover, but little more, to the fullback positions, and has been used more often, particularly by Stephen Hart, as a midfielder.

The Others
I've listed every player to start at a fullback position for Canada in the last two years, as well as Jim Brennan. Few other options come to mind. Tam Nsaliwa (25 years / 11 caps) has the speed but seems to be playing mostly in the middle of defense these days. Players like Kennedy Owusu-Ansah and Gabe Gala from the U-20s play the position, but are years away. Josh Simpson (24 years / 16 caps) at Kaiserslautern, knows the position, but is probably more useful as an attacking winger. He is also a left back, which Canada has in spades, while beyond Stalteri, the right back position is a big question mark.

My picks:

Right back

1. Paul Stalteri
2. Adam Braz
3. Chris Pozniak

Left back
1. Michael Klukowski
2. Ante Jazic
3. Jim Brennan

As always, there is room for argument in the comments section.

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